Coronavirus “surge hubs” are to be set up at hospitals across England in preparation for a potential wave of Omicron admissions, the NHS has said.
The eight temporary “Nightingale” units will each house about 100 patients, with building starting this week.
There are also plans to identify sites for a further 4,000 beds if needed.
Record Covid case numbers were reported in the UK on Wednesday and NHS medical director Prof Stephen Powis said the service was on a “war footing”.
The NHS is often required to deploy extra beds over winter, but hospitalisations in England with Covid have risen above 10,000 for the first time since March.
Across the UK 183,037 daily cases were reported in the latest figures, with over 900,000 cases reported over the last seven days – up 41.4% on the week before.
There were 57 people reported to have died within 28 days of a positive Covid test on Wednesday and 516 deaths over the last week – 34.1% lower than the previous seven days.
However, deaths and hospitalisations are both slower to show up in the Covid data, often following rising case numbers after a few weeks.
Prof Powis said the NHS “cannot wait to find out before we act” given the number of infections and uncertainty about Omicron’s severity.
Meanwhile, inconsistent supply of rapid lateral flow tests online continued on Thursday morning, following reports of similar issues at pharmacies.
Slots at PCR testing sites across England, Scotland and Northern Ireland were also largely unavailable – even for NHS and other essential workers. However, home PCR tests were available for delivery.
On Wednesday, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said test availability is refreshed throughout the day and people should keep checking online.
It added that eight million lateral flow tests will be made available to pharmacies by Friday.
Prof Peter Openshaw said the lack of testing availability shortly before New Year’s Eve celebrations was “very worrying indeed”.
The Imperial College London immunologist told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme parties are often “absolutely perfect” conditions to transmit Covid people crowding together in poorly ventilated spaces.